, Volume 180, Issue 2, pp 311-324

Multi-dimensional sensitivity analysis and ecological implications of a nutrient uptake model

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Mechanistic models of nutrient uptake are essential to the study of plant-soil interactions. In these models, uptake rates depend on the supply of the nutrient through the soil and the uptake capacity of the roots. The behaviour of the models is complex, although only six to ten parameters are used. Our goal was to demonstrate a comprehensive and efficient method of exploring a steady-state uptake model with variation in parameters across a range of values described in the literature. We employed two analytical techniques: the first a statistical analysis of variance, and the second a graphical representation of the simulated response surface. The quantitative statistical technique allows objective comparison of parameter and interaction sensitivity. The graphical technique uses a judicious arrangement of figures to present the shape of the response surface in five dimensions. We found that the most important parameters controlling uptake per unit length of root are the average dissolved nutrient concentration and the maximal rate of nutrient uptake. Root radius is influential if rates are expressed per unit root length; on a surface area basis, this parameter is less important. The next most important parameter is the effective diffusion coefficient, especially in the uptake of phosphorus. The interactions of parameters were extremely important and included three and four dimensional effects. For example, limitation by maximal nutrient influx rate is approached more rapidly with increasing nutrient solution concentration when the effective diffusion coefficient is high. We also note the ecological implications of the response surface. For example, in nutrient-limited conditions, the rate of uptake is best augmented by extending root length; when nutrients are plentiful increasing uptake kinetics will have greater effect.